University of Missouri

Turnovers hurt as Mizzou basketball drops second straight SEC game

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin spoke to MU freshman Javon Pickett during the second half of what turned out to be a victory for the Tigers over Illinois on Dec. 22, 2018, in St. Louis.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin spoke to MU freshman Javon Pickett during the second half of what turned out to be a victory for the Tigers over Illinois on Dec. 22, 2018, in St. Louis. AP

Not even Mother Nature could help fix Missouri’s issues on the basketball court.

Despite playing at South Carolina a day later than planned because of weather-related travel issues, the Tigers dropped their second straight game, losing 85-75 to the Gamecocks. Missouri committed 20 turnovers, which led to 33 South Carolina points on Sunday at Colonial Life Arena.

Freshman Javon Pickett dropped in a career-high 21 points while Mark Smith and Jordan Geist each had 14 for the Tigers (9-5, 0-2 SEC).

South Carolina (8-7, 3-0 SEC) had five players score in double-figures, including veteran Hassani Gravett, who scored all 12 of his points from the free-throw line. Gravett didn’t miss a shot from the charity stripe.

Missouri’s first half went much like most of its others this season, riddled with turnovers, long scoring droughts and Jeremiah Tilmon in foul trouble. After playing just nine minutes in MU’s blowout loss to No. 3 Tennessee on Tuesday, the 6-foot-10 sophomore center picked up his first foul 19 seconds into the game. Tilmon played just seven minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul.

The Tigers still managed to keep pace with the Gamecocks for most of the half. Freshman Torrence Watson showed more aggression and scored seven points in the first half. Senior Jordan Geist hit a pair of clutch shots that tied the score at 16-16 and 19-19.

But 11 first-half turnovers led to 16 points for South Carolina. Missouri was called for traveling multiple times and repeatedly coughed up the ball while driving through the lane. The Tigers went 5:45 without scoring late in the first half and shot just four free throws in the first 20 minutes while USC shot 19. A pair of late threes from Mark Smith helped MU go into halftime down 42-36.

“They do what they do,” Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin said of South Carolina’s defense. “They did a good job of pressuring us.”

South Carolina came out of halftime with an 8-0 run, prompting Martin to call timeout. The Tigers responded with an 8-0 run. Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, hit a layup while being fouled and converted the three-point play, which cut the deficit to 61-58 with 9:41 left.

Missouri struggled to keep the score close after losing Tilmon for good with 12:57 left. Tilmon picked up his third and fourth fouls just 2:17 apart before fouling out while angling for position with USC star forward Chris Silva. Tilmon finished with just four points in 13 minutes.

After the game, Martin said it wasn’t Silva’s veteran status that enabled him to foul out Tilmon, but more of the same problems from the second-year big man.

“It’s more Jeremiah,” Martin said. “He plays the same way regardless of who the opponent is. We just have continue to help Jeremiah to where he’s a productive member of our team.”

With Tilmon gone, Silva went right after backup center Reed Nikko and had his way, finishing with 14 points and three blocks. Missouri struggled to guard Silva and fellow USC forward Keyshawn Bryant, who finished with a team-high 15 points.

Pickett hit a three with three minutes left, which cut the deficit to 73-70, but Missouri gave up a pair of threes on the next two possessions. One of the Gamecocks’ threes came from sophomore Felipe Haase, who was a recruiting target of former coach Kim Anderson’s staff. Haase finished with 12 points and five rebounds.

Missouri’s next game is at 8 p.m. Wednesday against Alabama (10-5).

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.